Fifty years after the iconic event, announcer Cousin Brucie remember what it was like to watch the Beatles take America.
Fifty years ago, the Beatles changed the way America witnessed live music by performing the first stadium show of its size and scope. On Aug. 15, 1965, the boys from Liverpool played a record-shattering concert at New York’s Shea Stadium, which would be televised on BBC and ABC, immortalized in a documentary, and further the massive reach of Beatlemania in the ’60s. Legendary radio personality Cousin Brucie served as the announcer, and now, 50 years later, he says it still stands as the tipping point for turning concerts into must-see live spectacles.
“We knew this was more than a concert,” Brucie, who currently hosts shows on SiriusXM’s ’60s on 6 channel, said while speaking to EW over the phone. “This was a sociological experience. This was an amazing event, more than just the music. The music played almost a secondary role to what was going to happen at that particular moment in time.”
The Shea Stadium show broke records in terms of profits and attendance; promoter Sid Bernstein said the event made $304,000, and 55,000 fans were at the stadium. Ed Sullivan’s iconic documentary about the event, The Beatles at Shea Stadium, culled footage from 12 cameras that documented the day, and captures the band at their peak of fame.
The recordings highlight the Beatles’ renditions of “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night,” assisted by overdubs, but the crowd provides the most memorable audio. Brucie remembers barely even being able to hear the music over the audience’s screams, though he was just mere feet from the Beatles. “Somebody sent me recently, within six months, a copy of that particular recording of Shea Stadium 50 years ago. Up until then, I never heard anything. I didn’t know what it sounded like. It didn’t matter. Nobody was there to hear the music. They were there to share space.”
Footage shows the crowd going bonkers, climbing over fences and crying when John, Paul, George, and Ringo came into view. “They went through the motions,” Brucie said of the band. “The actual performance was not up to their par because nobody heard it. They couldn’t even hear themselves.”
1965 was a pivotal year in both music history and American history, and Brucie remembers the Shea Stadium performance being one of biggest events that brought young people together for something that was pure enjoyment. “At that time in our nation, we needed something desperately to get our minds off some of the tragedy that was happening, the assassinations, racial strife and political problems,” he said. “Anybody who was at Shea Stadium, it’s like someone who was at Woodstock. You have to have been there.”
Experiencing live music has changed nearly completely since the Beatles took over Shea Stadium, and Brucie attests today’s music festivals and arena tours would not have existed without that one day in New York. “The [show] was really the beginning of major events that we we have today at stadiums. It was a precursor of everything. It was an experiment that worked very, very well. Today when people go to concerts, they go to listen to the music. There has never been a musical ensemble that was more sociological and garnered the emotion than this particular group, the Beatles,” he said.
“I’ve been at other events from Springsteen to the Rolling Stones, Clapton. But, never has there been an emotional experience like there was at that day at Shea Stadium.”